There is something special about belief. Its affirmations and doubts, the lives it compels us to lead, the journeys it requires us to make and the truths it reveals to us. Life-defining belief is at the core of Moon Chang-Yong and Jeon Jin's documentary, Becoming Who I Was.
Angdu Padma is a Rinpoche—a reincarnated Buddhist master—whom we meet as a boy growing up in the Ladakh region of northern India. He lives his life among spare, rocky vistas and in the steadfast love and care of "Uncle" Rigzin Urgain, a lama and teacher who has given up his life as a traditional doctor to raise Angdu.
Their relationship is the heartbeat of the film and a portrait in certainty and self-sacrifice. Rigzin is constantly tending to Angdu's needs, patiently teaching and reteaching subtle lessons and quietly demonstrating a faithful life.
Almost instantly, we find ourselves wondering if Angdu can truly be the reincarnated soul of a Buddhist master who first lived centuries ago. Are there pearls of wisdom that would otherwise be impossible for a 9-year-old boy to know? A depth of soul that somehow reveals generational anachrony? A preternatural kindness?
As the audience, we're not the only ones with doubts. Rinpoche's monastery expels him early on in the film after years spent waiting for his followers to return and take him to Chinese-held Tibet. It's the place he says he remembers and where his disciples are, but without Rigzin and a few friends from school, he's more or less alone. His mother has given him over—lovingly—to Rigzin's care, but we become very much alone with Angdu as he wonders if he's truly a reincarnate or just a normal kid.
The film is at its best with glimpses of the reality of Angdu's life: when we see that he's a kid, when we catch an outburst that Rigzin gently corrects, when we watch the unlikely best friends gleefully fall into a snowball fight.
Moon and Jeon ask us to take a journey, and while it starts off slowly, it evolves into a beautiful meditation on belief, faith, love and perseverance.
+ A beautiful film that quietly insists we pay attention to our beliefs
– A slow start
Becoming Who I Was
Directed by Moon Chang-Yong and Jeon Jin
Violet Crown, Unrated, 95 min.